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Category: Africa

African Nations Draft Resolution To Investigate U.S. For Human Rights Violations

GENEVA (AP) — African nations have prepared a draft resolution at the U.N.’s top human rights body that singles out the United States and would launch intense international scrutiny of systemic racism against people of African descent in the wake of recent high-profile killings of blacks by American police.

The draft text, a copy of which has been obtained by The Associated Press, could become the centerpiece for an urgent debate hastily scheduled for Wednesday for the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

It calls for a Commission of Inquiry — the rights body’s most powerful tool to inspect human rights violations — to look into “systemic racism” and alleged violations of international human rights law and abuses against “Africans and of people of African descent in the United States of America and other parts of the world recently affected by law enforcement agencies” especially encounters that resulted in deaths.

Such work would be carried out “with a view to bringing perpetrators to justice,” said the text, circulated by the Africa Group in the council. The breadth of support for the measure was not immediately clear.

The U.S. mission in Geneva declined immediate comment on the draft resolution.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 47-member body two years ago, accusing it of an anti-Israel bias and of accepting members from some autocratic governments that are serial rights violators.

On Monday, the council agreed unanimously to hold the urgent debate on “racially inspired human rights violations, systemic racism, police brutality and the violence against peaceful protests” in the wake of the George Floyd killing in the United States.

Follow all AP coverage of stories about racial injustice and police brutality at https://apnews.com/GeorgeFloyd.

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South America Emerges As A New COVID Epicenter, While Cases In Africa Grow Rapidly

GENEVA (Reuters) – South America has become a new epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil hardest-hit, while cases are rising in some African countries that so far have a relatively low death toll, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

“The COVID-19 pandemic today reached a milestone in Africa, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases. The virus has now spread to every country in the continent since the first case was confirmed in the region 14 weeks ago,” the WHO said in a statement, noting there were 3,100 confirmed deaths on the vast continent.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, who is from Botswana, said: “For now COVID-19 has made a soft landfall in Africa, and the continent has been spared the high numbers of deaths which have devastated other regions of the world.”

Even so, she said, “We must not be lulled into complacency as our health systems are fragile and are less able to cope with a sudden increase in cases.”

About half of African countries are experiencing community transmission of the virus, the WHO said.

The situation in South America appeared graver. Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies expert, speaking earlier to a news conference, said: “In a sense South America has become a new epicenter for the disease.”

Brazil is the “most affected,” and authorities there have approved broad use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19, he said. He reiterated that clinical evidence does not support the drug’s widespread use against the disease, given its risks.

Nine African countries had 50% rises in cases in the past week, while others have seen a decline or have stable rates, Ryan said.

The low mortality rate may be because half the continent’s population is 18 or younger, he said, while saying he remains worried the disease will spread on a continent with “significant gaps” in intensive care services, medical oxygen and ventilation.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and John Miller in Zurich; Editing by Leslie Adler

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Ventilators In Short Supply In Africa As Experts Estimate Millions Of Possible COVID Deaths

Africa — where lifesaving equipment like ventilators, oxygen and masks, and even basic necessities like water and soap, are in short supply — could become the next epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization has warned.

Michel Yao, the WHO’s emergency operations manager in Africa, said last Thursday that Africa could see more than 10 million severe cases of the virus in the next six months, based on provisional models.

A report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said that in a worst-case scenario, where no interventions against the virus are taken, 3.3 million people in Africa could die from COVID-19 and 1.2 billion could be infected by the end of year.

Even under the best-case scenario, the report said, 300,000 people in Africa could perish from the virus.

To date, the continent has reported more than 20,000 cases of coronavirus and 1,000 deaths.

Africa, the U.N. report said, is “particularly susceptible” to COVID-19 because of widespread poverty, overcrowded living conditions and the highest prevalence among all the continents “of certain underlying conditions, like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.”

A lack of medical equipment and poor access to basic necessities like water and soap could further exacerbate COVID-19’s effects on African nations. 

Public hospitals across 41 African countries have fewer than 2,000 working ventilators, The New York Times reported on Saturday, citing WHO data. The United States, in contrast, has 170,000.

Ten countries in Africa have no ventilators at all, according to the Times. Several nations, including South Sudan, Mali, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have five machines or fewer. Even if those numbers increase because of donations, the region lacks adequate trained personnel to use the equipment, the U.N. report noted. 

Other critical medical equipment, including masks and oxygen, are also scarce across the continent, and only 34 percent of African households have access to basic hand-washing facilities, the U.N. said. 

“We are now failing. Let me use that word deliberately,” epidemiologist Mahad Hassan, a member of the Somalian government’s coronavirus task force, told The Washington Post of the country’s COVID-19 response. “At our main treatment center, almost nothing is there. Last time I visited, beds, only beds.”

Somalia’s public health system reportedly does not have a single ventilator at its disposal. More than 100 confirmed cases have been reported in the country so far, though at least one health official told the Post that the number could “be even a million.”

Hassan told the Post he’s expecting “very, very painful weeks ahead.”

A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

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Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer Cameron van der Burgh Hit Hard By Coronavirus

Olympic champion swimmer Cameron van der Burgh is perhaps facing his toughest opponent yet ― the coronavirus.

Van der Burgh, who won gold for South Africa in the 100 meter breaststroke in the 2012 London Olympics and silver in the 2016 Rio games, tweeted Sunday that he had contracted COVID-19 and was struggling, despite his fitness and age. 

“I have been struggling with Covid-19 for 14 days today,” he wrote. “By far the worst virus I have ever endured despite being a healthy individual with strong lungs (no smoking/sport), living a healthy lifestyle and being young (least at risk demographic).”

 The 31-year-old athlete complained of “serious fatigue” and an unshakeable cough. “Any physical activity like walking leaves me exhausted for hours,” he wrote.

Cameron van der Burgh raises his arms in victory at the 2012 Olympics.

On a positive note, van der Burgh reported that his severe fever had eased. 

Van der Burgh, who retired from competition in 2018, used his situation to push for this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo to decide its status. Athletes who contract COVID-19 will suffer greatly in their conditioning leading up to the competition, he wrote.

South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh shows off his gold medal after winning the 100 meter breaststroke final.

South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh shows off his gold medal after winning the 100 meter breaststroke final.

Olympic organizers are facing growing pressure to delay the games, scheduled to begin in late July. The International Olympic Committee has said it will determine the Summer Games’ fate within a month.

South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh churns to his gold medal in the London games.

South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh churns to his gold medal in the London games.

“Please, look after yourself everyone! Health comes first – COVID-19 is no joke!” van der Burgh wrote. 

A HuffPost Guide to Coronavirus

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Coronavirus Spreads Faster Outside China, Stoking Global Fears

SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) – The number of new coronavirus infections inside China – the source of the outbreak – was for the first time overtaken by fresh cases elsewhere on Wednesday, with Italy and Iran emerging as epicenters of the rapidly spreading illness.

Asia reported hundreds of new cases, Brazil confirmed Latin America’s first infection and the new disease – COVID-19 – was also detected for the first time in Pakistan, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Romania and Algeria.

U.S. President Donald Trump, seeking to calm markets and an increasingly worried public, said in a live broadcast that the United States was “very very ready” to face the virus threat and that Vice President Mike Pence would be in charge of the national response. It was one of just a handful of times that the president has appeared in the White House briefing room.

Stock markets across the world have lost $3.3 trillion of value in four days of trading, as measured by the MSCI all-country index .MIWD00000PUS.

Wall Street reversed earlier gains on Wednesday afternoon and oil prices dropped to their lowest level in over a year, spooked in part by health officials saying dozens of people who had been in China were being monitored in suburbs of populous New York city – although no confirmed cases have been found.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the federal government to tighten testing for visitors from a range of countries where the virus has been spreading, adding that its eventual detection in the city was “100% certain.”

The virus that can lead to pneumonia is believed to have originated in a market selling wildlife in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.

While radical quarantining measures have helped slow the rate of transmission in China, it is accelerating elsewhere.

Germany, which has around 20 cases, said it was already impossible to trace all chains of infection, and Health Minister Jens Spahn urged regional authorities, hospitals and employers to review their pandemic planning.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said China had reported 412 new cases on Tuesday, while there were 459 in 37 other countries.

However, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus advised diplomats in Geneva on Wednesday against speaking of a pandemic – which the WHO defines as the worldwide spread of a new disease.

“Using the word pandemic carelessly has no tangible benefit, but it does have significant risk in terms of amplifying unnecessary and unjustified fear and stigma, and paralyzing systems,” he said. “It may also signal that we can no longer contain the virus, which is not true.”

As panic increased, Mexican authorities barred a cruise ship from docking at one of its ports over what the ship’s company said was a single case of common seasonal flu.

The WHO says the outbreak in China peaked around Feb. 2, after measures that included isolating its epicenter Hubei province. It said only 10 new cases were reported in China on Tuesday outside Hubei.

There is no known vaccine for the virus. U.S. pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O) said on Wednesday it had started two late-stage studies to test its experimental antiviral drug remdesivir in humans.

FIRST LATIN AMERICAN CASE

As the cases have rippled outwards, the effects on large gatherings have increased. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for sports and cultural events to be scrapped or curtailed for two weeks as concern mounted for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, while sources told Reuters the International Monetary Fund was considering whether to make its April meeting in Washington virtual.

Latin America’s first case was confirmed in a 61-year-old man in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who had recently visited Italy, a new front line in the global outbreak.

The diagnosis coincided with the carnival holiday, a peak time for domestic travel. Brazil’s stock index fell over 7%.

In addition to Brazil, Italians or people who recently visited Italy have tested positive in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Italy itself has reported more than 400 cases, centered on the industrial heartlands of Lombardy and Veneto.

A hotel in Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands was locked down over cases linked to Italy.

“It’s very scary because everyone is out, in the pool, spreading the virus,” said 45-year-old hotel guest Lara Pennington.

In France, a second person died – a teacher who had not visited any country with a known outbreak.

There have been nearly 50 deaths outside China, including 12 in Italy and 19 in Iran, according to a Reuters tally.

While Iran has reported only 139 cases, epidemiologists say the death rate of around 2% seen elsewhere suggest that the true number of cases must be many times higher.

Cases linked to Iran have been reported across the Middle East. Iraq imposed travel bans to affected countries and barred public gatherings.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus here)

Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen, Jeff Mason and Susan Heavey in Washington, Jonathan Allen in New York, Diane Bartz in Chicago, Gavin Jones, Francesca Piscioneri and Crispian Balmer in Rome, Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun and Lusha Zhang in Beijing, Kate Kelland in London, Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul, Geert De Clercq in Paris, Paresi Hafezi and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Shields in Geneva; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by John Stonestreet and Bill; Berkrot

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Joe Biden Says He Was Arrested In South Africa Decades Ago

Former Vice President Joe Biden has begun telling a story on the campaign trail of his being arrested in South Africa decades ago. The only problem is, he doesn’t appear to have mentioned this incident publicly before this month.

The Democratic presidential candidate told some version of the following story at one campaign event in South Carolina and two in Nevada over the past two weeks, per The New York Times: On a visit to South Africa decades ago, he claims he tried to visit Nelson Mandela in prison and got arrested. 

“This day, 30 years ago, Nelson Mandela walked out of prison and entered into discussions about apartheid,” Biden can be heard saying in a video from the South Carolina event on Feb. 11. “I had the great honor of meeting him. I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see him on [Robben] Island.”

Former civil rights activist and Georgia congressman Andrew Young was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1970s when Biden visited South Africa. Young told the Times that he had traveled with then-Sen. Biden to South Africa but had never been arrested there — “and I don’t think he was, either,” Young said.

A New York Times search of news media did not find any mention of Biden being arrested in South Africa. He did not note it in his 2007 memoir, in which he discussed a ’70s trip to South Africa, according to the Times.

Biden’s team did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

In a 2013 visit to the South African Embassy in Washington after Mandela’s death, Biden talked about a 1977 visit to the country. He reportedly said he had met with anti-apartheid leaders there but did not get to speak with Mandela, who was serving what would ultimately be 27 years in prison. Biden did not appear to have mentioned being arrested. 

The former vice president is trailing behind Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in early national polls of the Democratic primary, just one day before the Nevada caucuses and within weeks of the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday.

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Official: Sudan To Hand Over Omar Al-Bashir To International Criminal Court For Genocide Trial

CAIRO (AP) — Sudan’s transitional authorities have agreed to hand over ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on charges of war crimes and genocide, a top Sudanese official said Tuesday, in a deal with rebels to surrender all those wanted in connection with the Darfur conflict.

For a decade after his indictment, al-Bashir confounded the court based in The Hague, Netherlands. He not only was out of reach during his 30 years in power in Khartoum, but he also traveled abroad frequently to visit friendly leaders without fear of arrest. He even attended the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he kicked a soccer ball playfully during an airport welcome ceremony and watched matches from luxury seating.

The military overthrew al-Bashir in April 2019 amid massive public protests of his rule, and he has been jailed in Khartoum since then. Military leaders initially ruled out surrendering him to The Hague, saying he would be tried at home.

But the joint military-civilian Sovereign Council that has ruled Sudan since last summer has agreed with rebel groups in Darfur to hand over those wanted by the ICC to face justice in The Hague, according to Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of the council and a government negotiator.

He didn’t mention al-Bashir by name, but said, “We agreed that everyone who had arrest warrants issued against them will appear before the ICC. I’m saying it very clearly.”

He did not say when they would be handed over.

“We can only achieve justice if we heal the wounds with justice itself,” he said. “We cannot escape from confronting that.”

He spoke at a news conference in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where the government and multiple rebel groups are holding talks to end the country’s various civil wars, including Darfur.

In the Darfur conflict, rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of oppression by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The government responded with a scorched-earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.

Al-Bashir, 76, faces three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his alleged role in leading the deadly crackdown. The indictments were issued in 2009 and 2010, marking the first time the global court had charged a suspect with genocide.

The ICC has indicted two other senior figures in his regime: Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, interior and defense minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time and later the leader of al-Bashir’s ruling party. Both have been under arrest in Khartoum since al-Bashir’s fall. Also indicted were Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and a senior Darfur rebel leader, Abdullah Banda, whose whereabouts are not known.

Al-Taishi also said that the transitional authorities and the rebels agreed on establishing a special court for Darfur crimes that would include crimes investigated by the ICC.

ICC spokesman Fadi Al Abdallah said the court had no comment until it received confirmation from Sudanese authorities. However, he said the country would not have to ratify the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, before sending al-Bashir to The Hague.

“There is an obligation for Sudan to cooperate” with the court’s arrest warrants, he said. “The ratification of the Rome Statute itself is not a requirement for the surrender of suspects.”

Another member of the Sovereign Council said the government delegation to the Juba talks has a “green light” from military leaders in the council, including its head, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, to announce that Sudan will hand over al-Bashir.

“We want to reassure the armed groups that we are serious and want to achieve peace as soon as possible,” he said.

The Sovereign Council member also said any extradition “might take months,” because he is wanted for other crimes in Sudan related to the “revolution” and the Islamist-backed military coup in 1989. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The decision could face a backlash from within Sudan’s military, from which al-Bashir emerged, and also from Islamists in the country.

Al-Bashir’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Hassan, warned that handing him over would have “dire political and security repercussions” for Sudan. He said he hoped Burhan “keeps his obligation that al-Bashir or any Sudanese won’t be handed over to the International Criminal Court.”

“This matter will not happen easily,” he told the AP by phone.

Handing over al-Bashir is a sensitive issue in Sudan as the country tries to steer toward democratic and economic reforms. The deputy head of the Sovereign Council, Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, commands a paramilitary unit that was involved in crushing the Darfur insurgency. The transitional government is under pressure to end its wars with rebel groups as it seeks to rehabilitate the battered economy, attract much-needed foreign aid and deliver the democracy it promises.

“The fledgling post-Bashir Sudan government is demonstrating a serious commitment to human rights principles in its first months in office.” said John Prendergast, expert and co-founder of the Sentry watchdog group. “Finally seeing a small measure of justice done for the mass atrocity crimes in Darfur will hopefully breathe new life into global efforts in support of human rights and genocide prevention.”

If al-Bashir is handed over, it would be only the second time a country has surrendered a foreign leader to the ICC. Ivory Coast transferred former President Laurent Gbagbo in 2011 to The Hague, where he was acquitted last year of crimes against humanity charges linked to alleged involvement in post-election violence.

Al-Bashir would be the highest profile figure yet to appear before the ICC, which was founded in 2002 but has been unable to gain acceptance among major powers, including the United States, Russia and China.

“Although the ICC has generated important legal precedents, it has had few important cases brought to verdict,” said Jens David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School. “Al-Bashir is the ICC’s ‘white whale.’”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted that handing al-Bashir over to the ICC is “potentially a huge and long-awaited step for justice for the people of Darfur.”

Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.

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By Targeting Africans, Trump's Muslim Ban Is Even More Racist

Last week, President Donald Trump announced the expansion of his controversial travel ban adding several more countries to the original list first signed in 2017. 

After the announcement, Democrats and immigration advocates have condemned the expanded policy, noting that the new order not only doubles down on targeting Muslims ― but it now explicitly targets Africans and Black African Muslims. 

Out of the seven newly added nations, four are African countries with sizable or majority-Muslim populations. Nigeria and Sudan each hold majority-Muslim populations, while Eritrea and Tanzania have sizable Muslim communities. Kyrgyzstan, a majority-Muslim country in Asia, is also on the list.

More than 12,000 people are expected to be impacted per year, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson. 

This week, Democrats plan to fight back what they say is a xenophobic policy by bringing the National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act ― also known as the No Ban Act — to the House floor for a vote. The bill would effectively terminate Trump’s ban.

Aya Saed, a Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights who focuses on systematic unlawful policies, said that it was no coincidence that these particular African nations were targeted, especially in light of Trump’s comments about Africans. 

In 2018, President Donald Trump reportedly referred to several African nations as “shithole countries” during an immigration meeting at the White House. A year prior, Trump allegedly said Nigerian visitors would never “go back to their huts” in a 2017 meeting. He was angry over the number of visas awarded to travelers from certain countries, according to those present at the meeting.

Saed predicts that the international backlash will be minimal due to “the lack of power that some of these countries can wield in American politics.” She also added that those communities inside the United States may not be well advocated for by current immigration groups due to their small constituency sizes. 

Democrats Fight Back

The United States is suspending immigrant visas ― the type of visa given to people seeking to live in the U.S. permanently ― for people from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, and Nigeria. People from Sudan and Tanzania will no longer be issued diversity visas, a type of visa reserved for travelers from countries with historically low immigration rates to the U.S.

“This just a doubling down on Trump’s racist and xenophobic immigration policies that continue to uphold white supremacy and keep out families and people who are seeking humanitarian protection,” said Mustafa Jumale, policy manager for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

People take part in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump on Jan. 19, 2018, shortly after his reported “shithole countries” comment.

The No Ban Act would end the current travel ban and prevent future presidents from instituting similar bans. It first introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), and co-sponsored by all three Muslim members of Congress: Reps. André Carson (D-Ind.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Just last week, Reps. Omar, Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) introduced the Eritrean Nationals’ Safety from Unjust Removal or Expulsion (ENSURE) Act, a bill that prevents officials from detention and deportation of Eritreans fleeing state oppression. 

Neguse, who is the first Eritrean-American elected to the United States Congress and Colorado’s first congressman of African descent, called the expansion a “xenophobic immigration policy” that “institutionalizes Islamophobia” and “exacerbates the existing prejudices faced by so many in this country today.”

American Communities Fear A Backlash And Family Separation

Widespread concerns have already made its way to those communities from the impacted nations inside the U.S. Jumale, who is based in Minnesota, the state with the most refugees per capita in the country, said clients told him they are worried about not being able to bring ill relatives to the U.S. for medical treatment. People are now canceling their own weddings and other trips abroad in fear of not being able to return.

Jumale pointed out the double standard set by the Trump administration, which continues to position itself as a champion for religious freedom and an advocate for Black people. During Trump’s State of the Union address last week, the president was condemned by Democratic members of Congress for exploiting people of color as political props. 

Internationally, the U.S. continues to push its own foreign policy interests in the very same nations it has placed travel restrictions on. 

Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa with a total population of 181 million people and a nation named on the latest ban, is the U.S.’s second-largest trading partner in the continent and receives more than $500 million in U.S. foreign aid programs. 

In 2018, Nigerians were issued 7,922 immigrant visas, making it the second-highest issuance compared to the other African nations.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, a country listed on Trump’s original ban, the American government continues to carry out airstrikes in its fight against terrorism, all while preventing citizens from seeking safety in the U.S. 

More than 42,000 people have been barred from entering the United States as a result of the travel ban’s implementation, according to a 2019 analysis of State Department data by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute. At least 3,460 parents were separated from their American children.

The number of Muslim refugees admitted into the country between 2016 and 2018 shrank by 91%. Of those refugees who resettled in the country in 2018, 70% were Christian. Only approximately 15% of admitted refugees were Muslim.

It is then no surprise that Trump administration continues to target more vulnerable black and brown communities, with little repercussions. Masking Islamophobia and anti-Black racism through legislation like this ban has become alarming accepted, said Saed. 

“My fear is that we won’t even get a sense of how deep of an impact that this will have,” said Saed. “[These bans have] become a normalized occurrence but more than that it’s become accepted.”

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Violence Scared Off These Islands’ Doctors, Now Health Care Arrives By Boat

LAMU ARCHIPELAGO, Kenya ― The motor sputters to life, kicking up saltwater and spitting a cloud of exhaust into the pre-dawn stillness. 

The captain and his deputy help two doctors from Nairobi, three medical assistants and a nurse climb aboard. They cram themselves among the waterproof boxes packed with vaccines and sterile equipment. As daylight breaks, they’re speeding northeast along the Indian Ocean coast toward some of Kenya’s poorest and most isolated villages, where there are few doctors and locals have little access to health care. 

The Safari Doctors team packs medicines in boats and travels to remote villages where health care is a luxury.

The team is part of Safari Doctors, a nonprofit that makes monthly trips deep into the Lamu Archipelago on Kenya’s dazzlingly beautiful northern coast. The word “safari” means “to travel” in East Africa’s Swahili language ― and the dozen or so villages the team visits on each trip require a difficult journey. To reach their first destination, the mainland village of Kiangwe, they weave the boat through a maze of channels, mangrove forest and white sand beaches for two hours, then set up a makeshift clinic and treat as many people as they can before moving on, zigzagging across the sea and camping out under the stars for several nights.

“Safari Doctors are the only doctors we see,” said Fatuma Ahmed, 24, a mother of a wailing baby girl, waiting to see the medics in Kiangwe. The nearest hospital is days away ― too far to reach on her own, she said. 

Since 2015, the Safari Doctors group has served a population of subsistence farmers, fishers and herders in a region that borders war-torn Somalia. Regular attacks inside Kenya by the Somali-led militants known as al-Shabab frightened off many of the doctors in Lamu County. Clinics have closed, leaving villagers without the tools they need to avoid diseases such as leprosy and polio. For some of the locals who came to meet the team on their October trip, these free monthly pop-up clinics are the difference between life and death.

Red outline shows approximate area of Safari Doctors' routes.

Red outline shows approximate area of Safari Doctors’ routes.

“We could walk to Somalia from here,” Harrison Kalu, the team’s nurse, told HuffPost as he carefully put two drops of polio vaccine into the mouth of a crying toddler in Kiangwe. Somalia has struggled to contain a polio outbreak due to low vaccine coverage. The disease spreads quickly among unvaccinated children and can cross country borders with human travelers, warns the World Health Organization. Under these circumstances, the WHO recommends that health professionals in Kenya monitor vulnerable communities and keep distributing vaccines.

“Without vaccinations, people would really suffer,” said Kalu, 67, a former member of the Kenyan navy who has worked as a nurse for almost 50 years. As a staffer for Safari Doctors, he directs the organization’s teams in the field.

It is not only children they help. Everyone from the villages comes to the clinics when the doctors arrive.

“My hands are too sore to work,” said fisherman and farmer Mohammed Adan, showing an infected wound from when he cut himself while hoeing his fields. “If I can’t work, my family will go hungry.”

Harrison Kalu, the nurse for Safari Doctors, leads the group's teams in the field.

Harrison Kalu, the nurse for Safari Doctors, leads the group’s teams in the field.

Kalu and his team can see as many as 800 patients on each sailing trip. They stop for only a few hours in each village, setting up their gear inside crumbling community halls or thatch-roof buildings. Outside, families wait in snaking lines for a checkup. In Kiangwe, HuffPost observed that several of the patients who arrived at the clinic were soldiers from Kenya’s army, posted in bush forts to defend against the al Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab insurgents.

Al-Shabab guerrillas, fighting to establish an Islamist state, made international headlines in 2013 for attacking the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, killing dozens. But the group had been active in Lamu County in years prior: In 2011, militants kidnapped a French vacationer on Manda Island ― a destination for wealthy foreign tourists. Numerous violent incidents rocked the county for the next several years.

“It was terrifying for my family,” said Faisal Abdi, a farmer and patient at one of the clinics, talking of the times five years ago when al-Shabab was at its most dangerous. “We had to run and hide when the fighting came close.”

Kenyan military forces have pushed much of the insurgent force out of the rural areas and across the border into Somalia.

“These days, things are better, as the army has bases close by,” added Abdi. “But still they [the militants] hide in the forests close by.”

Each trip by Safari Doctors takes several days. Before launching their boat, they pack waterproof boxes with medicines and su

Each trip by Safari Doctors takes several days. Before launching their boat, they pack waterproof boxes with medicines and supplies.

The threat from al-Shabab is not completely gone, and the remaining militants know that teams from Safari Doctors visit this area, Kalu told HuffPost.

In one raid on a village the doctors visit, when they stole equipment left by the team for its next trip, the militants asked the community where Kalu the nurse was. “They asked for me by name,” Kalu said.

Still, he said he isn’t ready to stop coming because the need is so great. 

When the violence was at its peak, the local government did what it could to keep medical clinics staffed ― but the Lamu region now has only 10 doctors serving about 150,000 people, according to Safari Doctors.

“Due to the security situation, people did not feel safe to be in some of the areas, so some services closed,” said Dr. Victor Tole, chief officer for medical services in the Lamu government. “People had no other alternative for health care.”

The dearth of rural doctors means that local health workers, who have some medical training (often informal) and a deep knowledge of the community’s needs, rely heavily on Safari Doctors.

“Without Safari Doctors coming every month, I would have had to cope with all the medical problems,” said Omar Mohammed, a community health worker who runs a medicine dispensary serving Kiangwe’s scattered huts. The organization’s visits have “made a big difference to people’s health,” he added. 

Most of the villagers who come to see the Safari Doctors arrive with common ailments ― coughs, colds, cuts and sores. The medical staff performs routine checkups, then screens for more insidious illnesses. 

“I’ve come because my daughter has a high fever,” said Zainab Bakari, a 26-year-old mother of two who spoke to HuffPost. “The doctors here helped my son last year, so I’ve returned with my daughter because she is sick.”

This time, the doctors say it is a stomach infection that will soon clear. But Bakari was right to worry: The area has seen outbreaks of dengue fever and chikungunya, mosquito-borne diseases that can be fatal. There is also the risk of elephantiasis, a painful and disfiguring parasitic disease that causes body parts to swell to unnatural sizes. Even the risk of leprosy remains. Last year, two patients who had the infection got the medicine and were cured, but doctors need to keep a constant eye out for others who may suffer.

Safari Doctors carry supplies ashore at one of the stops on their route. The group sets up mobile clinics in each village for

Safari Doctors carry supplies ashore at one of the stops on their route. The group sets up mobile clinics in each village for a few hours before moving on to the next stop. Each night, they camp out under the stars with people from the community.

It’s important that people have consistent access to health care to have a chance of preventing outbreaks, Kalu said. “You can’t just come to give health care when there is a big outbreak. At that point, it is too late, and you are dealing with diseases as an emergency.”

If one area does not have health care, diseases can spread unchecked to nearby areas.

“Infections do not have boundaries,” said Dr. Monique Wasunna, Africa director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi), which develops treatments for patients who otherwise might get no help. 

“Even in remote areas, there is movement in and out, so the communities around are at risk, too ― even if they have preventive measures and primary health care,” added Wasunna, a tropical medicine specialist who is not connected with Safari Doctors.

Umra Omar, 36, who founded Safari Doctors in 2015, grew up on the Lamu Archipelago and returned after completing her studies in the United States. Even before the militant attacks, medical services were not reaching people in Lamu County who needed them most, she said. A majority of people here live in rural areas, while major health care facilities are in places where the population is denser, she said. The same is true across countries in the developing world. Conflict makes travel even riskier.

On some trips, Safari Doctors travels by wooden dhow -- a traditional Indian Ocean ship with a triangle sail -- instead of a

On some trips, Safari Doctors travels by wooden dhow — a traditional Indian Ocean ship with a triangle sail — instead of a motorboat. The dhow is slower, meaning the team can’t visit as many villages, but it’s bigger, with room for more supplies and team members.

For those living in the mainland village of Kiangwe, for example, the road to the nearest hospital frequently washes out in the rain. Getting emergency health care means riding on a motorbike for more than a day, an expensive prospect for the villagers. People who live on the islands must take a boat to the mainland first, an even more time-consuming and costly process.  

“Safari Doctors works to fill the gap between the hospitals and health care on the ground,” Omar told HuffPost. 

To get all this done, Omar raises funds for medicines and staff salaries from tourism operators, as well as international donors, including the Canadian government. Many of the professionals who work with Safari Doctors are volunteers. 

The work they do has a ripple effect that spreads far beyond the Lamu region.

“Prevention is better than cure,” Wasunna said, pointing out that the costs of emergency treatment ― in terms of medication, hospitalization and the effect on patients’ families ― are far higher than having teams like Safari Doctors working to stop diseases in the first place.

“It might seem harder to do, but by putting in place preventive measures, you cover a large population,” Wasunna said. “Then people can lead better lives, and they can contribute to the economy. It helps the development of the country for all.”

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Tenuous Truce In Gaza After 34 Palestinians Killed, Dozens Of Israelis Wounded

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 14 (Reuters) – Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel declared a halt to hostilities across the Gaza Strip border on Thursday but a lasting ceasefire appeared tenuous as they differed on terms.

Islamic Jihad said an Egyptian-mediated truce went into effect at 0330 GMT, about 48 hours after Israel triggered the exchange of fire by killing the Iranian-backed faction’s top Gaza commander in an air strike, deeming him an imminent threat.

Occasional rocket fire from Gaza and a retaliatory Israeli air strike broke the calm, but the ceasefire largely held.

Gaza medical officials have put the death toll from the two days of fighting at 34 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians and including eight children and three women.

Hundreds of rocket launches by militants had paralyzed much of southern Israel and reached as far north as Tel Aviv, sending entire communities to shelters. Dozens of Israelis were hurt.

Hamas, Gaza’s dominant faction, appeared to have stayed out of this round of fighting. That may have helped stem escalation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military operation was drawing to a conclusion with its goals met. “Our enemies got the message – we can reach anyone,” Netanyahu said, as he visited soldiers at a missile interception battery.

Islamic Jihad said Israel had accepted its demand to stop both the targeted killing of militants and sometimes lethal army gunfire at weekly Palestinian protests on the Gaza border.

“The ceasefire began under Egyptian sponsorship after the Occupation (Israel) submitted to the conditions set by Islamic Jihad on behalf of Palestinian resistance factions,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab Al-Braim said.

But Israel said it would observe only a limited quid pro quo. “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” Foreign MinisterIsrael Katz told Army Radio.

MISSILE STRIKE

In the deadliest incident of the two-day hostilities, eight members of a Gaza family were killed by an Israeli missile strike shortly before the truce took hold, said medical officials and residents.

They said all were civilians. But Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said the head of the family, Rasmi Abu Malhous, who was among the dead, was the commander of Islamic Jihad rocket crews in the central Gaza Strip.

Neighbors left their homes to help rescue workers pull out the bodies of the family, some of which were completely buried in sandy earth. Civilians tried to test the pulse of one body before pulling it out.

Israel’s allegation about Rasmi Abu Malhous could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters. Islamic Jihad did not claim him as a member.

Neither the hostilities nor efforts to halt them shifted the dynamics of the underlying core conflict.

While Hamas has been open to long-term truces, it refuses, like Islamic Jihad, to accept permanent co-existence withI srael.

Gazans are seeking to end years of an Israeli-led blockade. Refugees from the 1948 war of Israel’s founding and their descendents make up most of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza and want the right to return to their families’ former lands.

Israel rejects that as demographic suicide and sees no means of making peace as long as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are armed.

Katz said there would be no change to Israeli military policy in Gaza, contradicting the assertion of Islamic Jihad.

Targeted killings “will not cease,” he said, and “the open-fire policy for which the Israel Defence Forces is responsible (at the Gaza border) will not change.”

Markets in Gaza reopened as life returned to normal, although people expressed mixed feelings about the truce.

“We responded and made clear our blood was not shed in vain. Also a truce is good because we don’t want our people to suffer more under the blockade,” said one resident, Mohammad Al-Smairi.

U.N. mediator Nickolay Mladenov said the Gaza situation remained fragile, tweeting: “All must show maximum restraint and do their part to prevent bloodshed. The Middle East does not need more wars.”

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones andAlex Richardson)

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